Cuirassiers (/ˌkwɪrəˈsɪər/; from French cuirassier [kɥiʁasje]) were cavalry equipped with armour and firearms, first appearing in late 15th-century Europe. The first cuirassiers were produced as a result of armoured cavalry, such as the man-at-arms and demi-lancer, discarding their lances and adopting the use of pistols as their primary weapon. In the later 17th century, the cuirassier lost his limb armour and subsequently employed only the cuirass (breastplate and backplate), and sometimes a helmet. By this time, the sword was the primary weapon of the cuirassier, pistols being relegated to a secondary function.
Cuirassiers achieved increased prominence during the Napoleonic Wars and were last fielded in the opening stages of World War I. Cuirassiers continue to be employed as ceremonial troops by a number of countries. The French term means "one with a cuirass" (cuirasse), the breastplate armour which they wore.
The first cuirassiers were similar in appearance to the fully armoured Late Medieval man-at-arms. They wore three-quarter armour that covered the entire upper body as well as the front half of the legs down to the knee. The head was protected by a close helm, burgonet or lobster-tailed pot helmet, usually worn with a gorget for the neck. The torso was protected by a breast and back plate, sometimes reinforced by a 'placate'. The arms and shoulders were fully armoured with pauldrons, rerebraces, elbow couters and vambraces. Armoured gauntlets were often abandoned, particularly for the right hand, as they interfered with the loading of pistols. Long tassets, instead of a combination of short tassets with cuisses, protected the front of the thighs and knees, Riding boots were substituted for lower leg armour (greaves and sabatons). Weapons included a pair of pistols in saddle holsters (these were the primary weapons instead of a lance), a sword, and sometimes a "horseman's pick" (a type of war hammer). Horse armour was not used.
The armour of a cuirassier was very expensive; in England, in 1629, a cuirassier's equipment cost four pounds and 10 shillings, whilst a harquebusier's (a lighter type of cavalry) was a mere one pound and six shillings.
During the latter half of the 16th century, the heavy "knightly" lance gradually fell out of use perhaps because of the widespread adoption of the infantry pike. Also, the lance required a great amount of practice to perfect its use, whilst proficiency in the use of firearms was considerably more easily acquired. The lancer or demi-lancer, when he had abandoned his lance, became the pistol-armed cuirassier or reiter.
The adoption of the pistol as the primary weapon led to the development of the stately caracole tactic, where cuirassiers fired their pistols at the enemy, then retired to reload whilst their comrades advanced in turn to maintain the firing. Following some initial successes, this tactic proved to be extremely ineffective as infantry, with superior firearms and numbers could easily outgun the cuirassiers. The change from cavalry being reliant on firearms, to shock-capable close combat cavalry reliant mainly on the sword was often attributed to Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in the 1620s and 1630s. Gustavus Adolphus also reduced the number of ranks in a cavalry formation from the previously usual six to ten, for pistol-based tactics, to three to suit his sword-based shock tactics, or as a partial remedy to the frequent numerical inferiority of his cavalry arm.
Only two cuirassier regiments were raised during the English Civil War, the Lifeguard of the Earl of Essex and the 'London lobsters,' though individuals within other regiments did serve in full armour. With the refinement of infantry firearms, especially the introduction of the powerful musket, the usefulness of the protection afforded by full armour became greatly lessened. By the mid 17th century, the fully armoured cuirassier was becoming increasingly anachronistic. The cuirassier lost his limb armour and entered the 18th century with just the breast and backplate.
Body armour, restricted to a breast and backplate, fell in and out of use during the 18th century; for example British cavalry entered the War of the Spanish Succession without body armour, although they readopted it during the conflict. Cuirassiers played a prominent role in the armies of Austria, and of Frederick the Great of Prussia. By the time of the French Revolutionary Wars, few heavy cavalry regiments, excepting those of Austria, wore the cuirass on campaign. The twelve Austrian cuirassier regiments in existence between 1768 and 1802 (when the number was reduced) unusually wore only a front plate. This reduced the burden of the weight carried by the individual trooper but left his back unprotected during a swirling cavalry melee.
Most heavy cavalry from c. 1700 to c. 1785 wore the tricorne hat, which evolved into the bicorne, or cocked hat, towards the close of the century. In the first two decades of the 19th century, helmets, often of hardened leather with brass reinforcement (though the French used iron-skulled helmets for their cuirassiers), replaced the bicorne hat.
A resurgence of armoured cavalry took place in France under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, who increased the number of armoured regiments from one to, ultimately, sixteen (fourteen cuirassier regiments plus two Carabiniers-à-Cheval regiments).
During the first few decades of the 19th century most of the major states of Europe, excepting Austria which had retained its armoured cavalry, readopted the cuirass for some of their heavy cavalry in emulation of the French. The Russians fielded two divisions of armoured cavalry, but most other states armoured a few senior regiments: Prussia three regiments, the Kingdom of Saxony three, the Kingdom of Westphalia two, Spain one (Coraceros Españoles) and the Duchy of Warsaw one. The three Household Cavalry regiments of the British Army (1st and 2nd Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards) adopted cuirasses shortly after the Napoleonic Wars as a part of their full dress uniforms, but never had occasion to wear the armour in battle. However as late as 1887 these regiments were still wearing cuirasses on maneuvers in "field day order".
Cuirassiers were generally the senior branch of the mounted portion of an army, retaining their status as heavy cavalry—"big men on big horses". Their value as a heavy striking force during the Napoleonic Wars ensured that the French, Russian and Prussian armies continued to use cuirassier regiments throughout the 19th century. The Austrian cuirassiers were abolished in 1868.
For reasons of climate and cost cuirassiers of the 19th century type seldom appeared outside Europe and Latin America. However Ranjit Singh's Sikh Army (the Khalsa) of the 1830s included two regiments of cuirassiers equipped and armed in French fashion. Four hundred carabinier cuirasses were imported from France while helmets and uniforms were manufactured in Wazirabad.
Though the armour could not protect against contemporary flintlock musket fire, it could deflect shots fired from long-range, stop ricochets and offer protection from all but very close range pistol fire. More importantly, in an age which saw cavalry used in large numbers, the breastplates (along with the helmets) provided excellent protection against the swords and lances of opposing cavalry and against infantry bayonets. It also had some psychological effect for the wearer (effectively making the cuirassier more willing to plunge into the thick of fighting) and the enemy (adding intimidation), while it also added weight to a charge, especially in cavalry versus cavalry actions.
Napoleonic French cuirasses were originally intended to be proof against three musket shots at close range; however, this was never achieved in practice. The regulations eventually recognised this, and cuirasses were subsequently only expected to be proof against one shot at long range.
The utility of this armour was sometimes disputed. Prussian cuirassiers had abandoned the armoured cuirass before the Napoleonic Wars, but were reissued with it in 1814. During this period, a single British cavalry regiment (Royal Horse Guards) wore cuirasses during the Netherlands campaign of 1794, using breastplates taken from store. The Austrian cuirassiers traded protection for mobility by wearing only the half-cuirass (without back plate) and helmet. Napoleon believed it sufficiently useful that he had cuirassier-style armour issued to his two carabinier regiments after the Battle of Wagram. Despite being highly advanced from the plate armour of old, the Napoleonic era cuirass was still quite cumbersome and hot to wear in warm weather; however, the added protection that it gave to the wearer and the imposing appearance of an armoured cavalryman were factors favouring retention.
The last occasions when cuirassiers played a major tactical role as shock cavalry wearing traditional armour, were during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The French cuirassiers numbered 11 regiments at the outbreak of war but had not seen active service since the Battle of Waterloo. A brigade comprising the 6th and 9th Regiments had served in the Crimean War but had not actually encountered the enemy. Accordingly, the prospect of action against the Prussian Army, which included 10 cuirassier regiments of its own, was seen as an opportunity for a strongly traditional branch of the French cavalry to prove its continuing relevance. In the event, in a series of massed charges against Prussian infantry and artillery at Froeschwiller and Rezonville, the French cuirassiers suffered very heavy losses for little return.
In 1914, the German Army still retained cuirassiers (ten regiments including the Gardes du Corps and the Guards Cuirassiers); as did the French (twelve regiments) and the Russian (four regiments, all of the Imperial Guard) armies. The Austrians had dispensed with heavy breastplates in 1860 and formally abolished the cuirassiers as a branch of their cavalry in 1868. By the end of the 19th century, the German and Russian cuirassiers used the breastplates only as part of their peacetime parade dress, but the French regiments still wore the cuirass and plumed helmet (both with cloth covers) on active service during the first weeks of World War I. Amongst ceremonial units the Spanish Escolta Real (Royal Escort) Squadron, the Argentinian Presidential Bodyguard, and the Italian Cuirassier (Corazzieri) Corps all wore cuirasses as part of their mounted full dress during the early years of the 20th century.
The retention of cuirasses as part of their field uniform by the French Army in 1914 reflected the historic prestige of this branch of the cavalry, dating back through the Franco-Prussian War to the campaigns of Napoleon. Before the war, it had been argued within the army that the cuirass should be limited to parade dress but upon mobilisation in 1914 the only concession made to active service was the addition of a cover of brown or blue cloth over the shining steel and brass of the metal equipment to make the wearer less visible. Within a few weeks, most French regiments stopped wearing the cuirass, as it served no real purpose in this new war. It was not however formally withdrawn until October 1915.
The Russian and German cuirassiers ceased to exist when the Imperial armies in both countries were disbanded; respectively in 1917 (due to the revolution) and in 1918 (due to the Treaty of Versailles). The French cuirassiers continued in existence after World War I, although without their traditional armour and reduced in numbers to only the six regiments that had been most decorated during the war. Five of these units had achieved their distinctions serving as "cuirassiers à pied" or dismounted cavalry in the trenches. The surviving cuirassier regiments were amongst the first mounted cavalry in the French Army to be mechanised during the 1930s. One cuirassier regiment still forms part of the French Army.
The development of firearms, which reduced the effectiveness of expensive heavy armour, led to a considerable reduction of the size and complexity of the latter. This form of protection was reduced in the latter half of the 17th century to the breastplate and the helmet, both of which eventually became largely decorative against projectiles but still retained their effectiveness against swords, lances, and bayonets.
The 12th Cuirassier Regiment (French: 12e Régiment de Cuirassiers, 12e RC) is an armoured cavalry (tank) regiment of the French Army. It provides the armoured component of the 2nd Armoured Brigade. Currently stationed at Quartier Valmy, Olivet, France.1st-11th Cuirassier Regiment
The 1st–11th Cuirassier Regiment (French: 1er-11e Régiment de Cuirassiers, 1er-11e RC) was an armoured (tank) regiment of the French Army. It was the armoured component of the 3rd Mechanised Brigade from 1 July 1999.1st Cuirassier Regiment (France)
The 1st Cuirassier Regiment (French: 1er Régiment de Cuirassiers, 1er RC) was the oldest armoured regiment in the French Army, until it was amalgamated with 11th Cuirassiers Regiment. Today its traditions are carried on by the 1st Cuirassier Squadrons Group of the 1st-11th Cuirassier Regiment.2nd Cuirassier Regiment
The 2nd Cuirassier Regiment (French: 2e régiment de cuirassiers or 2e RC) was an armoured unit of the French Army, which originated as a cavalry and then a cuirassier regiment. It was descended from the régiment Cardinal-Duc, which is at the top of the list of twelve cavalry regiments created by the same royal ordnance of 16 May 1635 - this made the 2nd Cuirassier Regiment the oldest surviving cavalry regiment in the French Army, until its disbandment in 1991.3rd Cuirassier Regiment (France)
The 3rd Cuirassier Regiment (French: 3e Régiment de Cuirassiers, 3e RC) was a cavalry regiment of the French Army, later reequipped as an armored regiment.6th-12th Cuirassier Regiment
The 12th Cuirassier Regiment (French: 6e-12e Régiment de Cuirassiers,6e-12e RC) was an armoured cavalry (tank) regiment of the French Army. It was the armoured component of the 2nd Armoured Brigade.6th Cuirassier Regiment (France)
The 6th Cuirassier Regiment (French: 6e Régiment de Cuirassiers,6e RC) was an ancient French cavalry regiment. It has since merged with the 12th Cuirassier Regiment to form the 6th-12th Cuirassier Regiment.Battle of Soor
The Battle of Soor (30 September 1745) was a battle between Frederick the Great's Prussian army and an Austro-Saxon army led by Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine during the Second Silesian War (part of the War of the Austrian Succession). The battle occurred in the vicinity of Soor, also known as Hajnice, in the modern day Czech Republic. The battle started with a failed Austrian surprise attack on the outnumbered Prussians. Despite initial setbacks the Prussian army managed to defeat the Austrians, due to an unexpected attack from a reserve regiment that refused to follow Frederick's orders.Capitulation of Pasewalk
The Capitulation of Pasewalk on 29 October 1806 resulted in the surrender of Oberst (Colonel) von Hagen's 4,200 Prussian soldiers to an inferior force of two French light cavalry brigades led by Generals of Brigade Édouard Jean Baptiste Milhaud and Antoine Lasalle. The Prussians were completely demoralized after a two-week-long retreat following their decisive defeat at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt. Pasewalk is 110 kilometers north of Berlin and about 40 kilometers west of Szczecin (Stettin), Poland.
While retreating east toward Stettin on the Oder River, Hagen found his column trapped between Lasalle's brigade and Milhaud's brigade. Without attempting to break out, the baffled Prussian officer surrendered. The incident at Pasewalk came after a similar Prussian surrender after the Battle of Prenzlau the previous day. Within a week two fortresses would capitulate without firing a shot and a number of other Prussian columns would be hunted down one by one.Carnoux-en-Provence
Carnoux-en-Provence is a commune located 16.4 km (10.2 mi) from the northeast of Marseille in the department of Bouches-du-Rhône in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southern France. It was created in 1966 from the commune of Roquefort-la-Bédoule.
Camp de Carpiagne, the garrison for the 1st-11th Cuirassier Regiment armoured (tank) regiment of the French Army is found here.Chevalier Guard Regiment
The Chevalier Guard Regiment (Russian: Кавалергардский полк) was a Russian heavy cavalry guard regiment, created in 1800 by the reformation of the Chevalier Guard corps, itself created in 1764 by Catherine the Great. As other Russian heavy cavalry guard regiments (the Life-Guards Horse Regiment, His Majesty's Life-Guards Cuirassier Regiment, and Her Majesty's Life-Guards Cuirassier Regiment), the Chevalier Guards were equipped as cuirassiers (with some differences in uniform and equipment from army cuirassiers and other guard cuirassier regiments).Cuirassier Regiment "Queen" (Pomeranian) No. 2
The Cuirassier Regiment "Queen" (Pomeranian) No. 2 (German: Kürassier-Regiment "Königin" (Pommersches) Nr. 2) was a Prussian cavalry regiment. Formed in 1717 as Dragoner-Regiment Nr.5 Bayreuth Dragoner it was originally a dragoon regiment and was part of the Prussian order of battle until 1918. The Bayreuth Dragoons achieved fame for their role in winning the Battle of Hohenfriedberg in 1745. In 1819 it was transformed into a cuirassier regiment.
Apart from short interruptions, the regimental garrison was Pasewalk in Western Pomerania from 1721 to 1919.II Cavalry Corps (Grande Armée)
II Cavalry Corps (Grande Armée) was a French military formation during the Napoleonic Wars. It was first formed in December 1806, but only enjoyed a brief existence under Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières. The II Cavalry Corps was reconstituted for the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and commanded by General of Division Louis-Pierre Montbrun who was killed in battle, as was his successor a few hours later. In the War of the Sixth Coalition, General of Division Horace François Bastien Sébastiani de La Porta led the corps in 1813. General of Division Antoine-Louis Decrest de Saint-Germain directed the corps in 1814. During the Hundred Days, Napoleon raised the corps again and entrusted it to General of Division Rémi Joseph Isidore Exelmans.IV Cavalry Corps (Grande Armée)
The IV Cavalry Corps (Grande Armée) was a French military formation that existed during the Napoleonic Wars. The corps was created in 1812 and rebuilt in 1813 and 1815. Emperor Napoleon first organized the corps for the French invasion of Russia. Under General of Division Victor de Fay de La Tour-Maubourg, the corps fought at Borodino. During the War of the Sixth Coalition in 1813, General of Division François Étienne de Kellermann commanded the all-Polish corps at Leipzig. During the Hundred Days in 1815, Napoleon reconstituted the corps and nominated General of Division Édouard Jean Baptiste Milhaud to direct it. Composed entirely of cuirassier regiments, the two divisions fought at Ligny and Waterloo.Order of battle for the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631)
The following units and commanders fought in the Battle of Breitenfeld of the Thirty Years War in 1631. Unless otherwise noted, all units have ten companies.Rain order of battle
The following units and commanders fought in the Battle of Rain.Reserve Cavalry Corps (Grande Armée)
The Reserve Cavalry Corps or Cavalry Reserve of the Grande Armée was the name of a French military formation that existed during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1805, Emperor Napoleon appointed Marshal Joachim Murat to command all the cavalry divisions that were not directly attached to the Army Corps. During the Ulm Campaign, Murat led his horsemen in successfully hunting down many Austrian Empire units that escaped the Capitulation of Ulm. Murat's horsemen fought at Austerlitz in December 1805. Under Murat, the Cavalry Reserve played a prominent role in the destruction of the Kingdom of Prussia's armies after the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt in 1806. Five dragoon divisions of the corps were employed in the Peninsular War starting in 1808 and placed under the overall command of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières. The Cavalry Reserve was reassembled in 1809 to fight Austria with Bessières still in command. In 1812 the Reserve Cavalry Corps was split up into the I, II, III, and IV Cavalry Corps for the French invasion of Russia.Sabre de cuirassier modèle An IX
The Sabre modèle An IX, ("sabre, an IX model") was a standard cavalry sabre in usage in the French Army during the Napoleonic Wars.
The modèle An IX was the first attempt at standardising cavalry sabres after the French Revolution, during which a disorganised plethora of bladed weapons was produced. It comes as a successor of the sabre of the elite Garde du Corps.The Wounded Cuirassier
The Wounded Cuirassier (French: Le Cuirassier blessé quittant le feu) is an oil painting of a single anonymous soldier descending a slope with his horse by the French Romantic painter and lithographer Théodore Géricault (1791–1824). In this 1814 Salon entry, Géricault decided to depict a different view of battle than the generally done views of entire battles or of famous generals bravely fighting. On display just a few months after Napoleon's fall from power, this life-size painting symbolized the French defeats and Napoleon's failure. Though the painting is called The Wounded Cuirassier, there are no visible wounds on the soldier. Additionally, though Géricault generally created several drafts before settling on a final design, there do not seem to be any paintings of his that could be considered precursors to this painting. Only his Signboard of a Hoofsmith, which is currently in a private collection, bears any resemblance in form or function to this painting.The two known copies of the painting are at the Musée du Louvre and at the Brooklyn Museum.